How to Write Observation Papers

Observational essays allow students to perform direct research about a topic and then practice explaining the event or situation in writing. An observational essay requires the writer to attend a meeting or event and write up a report explaining what took place and your interpretation of the events.

Determine Participation Level

Before observing the group, class or event, decide whether you want to take part or simply monitor the discussion. If you are not a regular member of the group, your participation may make members uncomfortable, so you may not get an accurate observation of a typical meeting or experience. As you watch the event, take notes using a two-column system, writing facts in the first column and leaving the second column for your interpretation or evaluation of those actions. For instance, you might write in the first column that the leader asked for volunteers to begin, and in the second column you could note that participants all looked at the floor, making you believe they were reluctant to speak.

Plan Your Paper

After observing the meeting, begin with some pre-writing activities to plan your paper. Make notes about what you think was the most important part of the meeting, who made the most distinct impression on you, what you learned or wish you had learned from the meeting. This concept will become your thesis statement, the point of your observational essay, so you need to think about the point you want to make. You might note that the emotional feel of the meeting was upbeat and members had success stories, indicating members of this group support each other well, for instance. If observing a class, you might consider whether you feel the lesson was successful, and why or why not.

Write a Thesis and Support

Turn the main idea from your pre-writing into your thesis, a single sentence explaining the point of your paper, such as, "This meeting demonstrated the positive power of the support group through stories of success and positive reinforcement." Create a body paragraph for each major point in your thesis. In each, tell the reader what happened during the meeting and how those events relate to your thesis. Use specific detail, narrating the events that support your point.

Add Finishing Touches

Create an introduction and conclusion for your observation essay. Open your paper with an introductory paragraph that gives some information about the situation, such as the group that is meeting, the class you observed or other background about the situation. Place the thesis explaining your paper's purpose at the end of the introduction. End the essay with a concluding paragraph that summarizes the purpose of your paper, emphasizing what you learned during your observation and reminding the reader of your thesis. Proofread carefully so your ideas are clear.

About the Author

Kristie Sweet has been writing professionally since 1982, most recently publishing for various websites on topics like health and wellness, and education. She holds a Master of Arts in English from the University of Northern Colorado.

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